Monday, 16 February 2015

A Seven Week Journey Of Discovery And Learning in France

PROGRAM: Language Immersion
PROJECT: Language Immersion
WRITTEN BY: Dara Slarke-Griffiths

After a teary goodbye to our friends and family at Sydney airport on the morning of December 8, we boarded our 9-hour flight to Bangkok with the French ‘five week-ers’ and the German ‘seven week-ers’. On this flight, we were able to make friends with the people near us as we talked and watched movies together. It was a rather enjoyable flight and was full of laughing, joking and just getting to know each other. When we landed in Bangkok airport, we made our way over to the airport accommodation where we spent our 10-hour stop over. By this point we were all a bit delirious but still wanted to spend time with our new friends so while some people slept in their rooms, most of us went to the airport food court and shops, while others stayed around the rooms taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi or playing card games.

The 10 hours passed rather quickly and soon enough we were saying goodbye to our new Germany-bound friends, as they had to board a different flight, whilst we boarded our flight to Paris! While we were all incredibly excited, we were so tired that we slept for most of the 12 hours in the air. When we made it to Paris, we loaded onto a bus outside the airport and had a tour of the city. He told us many stories about the history of the city and showed us many beautiful buildings that were just ‘so French’ (a very popular phrase throughout the tour!).

Soon after, we stopped off at a café and tried ordering in French for the first time. We checked into our hostel in Paris where we stayed for 4 days. We had our lunch and then went to our rooms to get ready for the Eiffel Tower. After taking many (many) group photos and selfies (that would soon flood Facebook) we waited in line to climb up the Eiffel Tower. The line was very crowded and it took a long time to get to the front but when we did, we saw that it was definitely worth the wait. The view of Paris was breathtaking and because it was night time, we got to see all of the beautiful lights of the city that were reflected of the Seine River. After taking many more group photos and selfies of the view we raided the gift shop for souvenirs and returned to our hostel to eat dinner before playing foosball, chatting and updating Facebook profile pictures.

On our second day in Paris, we had our first French lesson in the morning before going to lunch at an Italian Restaurant together. After lunch we took the metro into Paris to the Musée d’Orsay where we saw a variety of different art mediums from different artists. After this, we crowded around a little crepe stall outside the museum (being the hungry teenage tourists we are). After this, we made our way to the Seine River for our boat tour. On this tour, like the one at the Eiffel Tower, we got to see the city of Paris at night but this time from below. It was a beautiful sight and we saw the Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower standing out against the night. We ended the day by having dinner at a French restaurant together before making our way back to the hostel.

We started the third day with another French lesson before we visited the Louvre Museum. We had a guided tour around the museum and got to see the famous glass pyramid and the Mona Lisa painting, many of us surprised by its actual size. We saw the beautiful rooms that were once inhabited with the French royal families and stunning paintings that covered the walls. After many selfies with the Mona Lisa (trying to imitate that smile) we went gift and souvenir shopping in the neighbouring shops before meeting up with the ‘five week-ers’ for dinner at a nearby restaurant.

We started our last day in Paris with another French lesson and tour before packing our things and heading to the Sacre-ceour (Sacred Heart) Church in Paris for our final tour. After this, we explored the little shops and side streets surrounding the Church before taking a bus to the train station then onto Rouen.

We were all very excited but also nervous to finally meet our host families in person for the first time. We used this train ride to revise our French and try to calm down a bit. As the train pulled into the station, some of us started to panic and we all shared excited and nervous emotions and expressions as we made our way up the level our host families were on. We were greeted by a large group of families who wore the same expressions as us.

We were introduced to our families and met the host families of our friends. We then drove with our families to a local high school to get to know each other and meet the English teachers that would be at our schools. We then went home with our families to have dinner. My family made me my first Croque Monsieur (which was absolutely amazing) to eat while I told them about my life in Australia. After clarifying that I don’t have a pet koala and that I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to have kangaroos box each other, we said good night and went to bed.

The first few days with our families were a rather daunting experience. We had to try and fit into new routines, meet new school friends, introduce ourselves to our new teachers and, probably the scariest thing for us at the time, meet the school principal. However, after we got into the habit of things, we started to fall into routine and feel like we were a part of the school and a part of our host family.

After our first week of school, it was time for the Christmas Holidays with our families. Some families drove to neighbouring countries (a concept not possible for Australians – unless you want to drown!), others stayed in France with their families and might have gone to Paris for a few days. My family and I stayed in Rouen and went to the grandmother’s house on the evening of December 24 for dinner. We ate 3 courses over 5 hours starting around 9 and ate our way well into Christmas morning. Around 2:30 on Christmas morning, while all the little kids were upstairs, Santa came to visit with presents for everyone. We then spent the next 30 minutes handing out and opening Christmas presents. The families and Santa gave me lots of Normandy chocolates and books about Rouen. It was a very exciting evening/morning and is was a fantastic experience for me, as I am used to having a typical Christmas lunch with my cousins on December 25th. While I was a little bit emotional over the fact that I wasn’t spending Christmas with my family, I still had an amazing time and my host family really accepted me as one of their own.

After Christmas, my host sister and her boyfriend took me to Paris for the day. This was exciting because I got to go see the Paris Christmas markets and the Arc de Triumph. It was a day full of looking at lots of beautiful things and unique stalls and getting to visit all the big shops along the way. I was also able to get closer to my sister by shopping and playing huite americaine (crazy eights) on the train to and from Paris. The rest of my Christmas holidays were spent meeting up with friends, shopping and spending time with the family of my host sister.

The next three weeks we spent going to school with our host siblings. My sister is the literary stream, so I attended 4 different English classes, a French class, a history-geography class, a PE practical class and a science class. This meant that I had at least two English speaking classes a day and I had to take the English tests that my sister sat. After school, I got to go to dance classes with my sister. It was really fun for me as it was the first time I had danced ballet in 5 years. It was also a great way for me to spend more time with my sister while doing something we both enjoyed. Sometimes I would also meet up with my Australian friends and their French siblings and we would go shopping or to a café we had grown to love.

We had our second Aussie meet up to have our group cooking class. We learnt how to make a Galette. We also got to try many different traditional French desserts. We got to make our own little frangipani galettes, each with little fevres to bring home to our families.

For our last Aussie meet up we went to an ice skating rink and skated around for 2 hours. It was easy to tell who was Australian and who was French as we Aussies were generally falling all over the place while our French siblings were practically pros. With the help of our siblings, we were soon able to skate laps around the rink without falling over. It was a fun experience and one that I know we all enjoyed immensely.

Saying goodbye to our families was a very hard thing for us to do. The night before our departure, I had to say goodbye to my host brother (who I had gotten quite close to by watching Grease) as he wasn’t able to come to the airport with us in the morning. I also had to say goodbye to all my friends at school. I handed out my little koala key rings and cried a bit when saying goodbye to all my French classmates. At the train station, lots of Aussies and our French siblings were teary. My sister gave me a little present with a note and a packet of tissues to open on the train (she knew I would cry). After saying goodbye to our host families, friends and siblings on the platform, we boarded the train still waving at our sibling through the window. Before we left she got me to read the note while she was still there. She told me about how happy she was that we got to stay together for the 7 weeks and how proud she was. With that, the train pulled away and we started our journey back to Australia.

These seven weeks were some of the best weeks I have ever had. I got the chance to experience living in a different country and be immersed in a different culture and language. I got to attend a French High School and to experience the French culture and lifestyle first hand. I made some of the best friends I have ever had and I established strong, positive relationships with everyone I was friends with in France. I have some absolutely amazing memories from France that I will cherish forever. It was an amazing experience and I am incredibly grateful for being able to go on this exchange and getting to meet so many fantastic and amazing people.

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